The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to miss multiple significant deadlines for isolating Ebola patients in West Africa, which, experts note, means that “there are still going to be many people who catch the disease and many people who die from it,” despite recent improvements in the situation on the ground.
The organization announced Monday, optimistically, that it had reached “milestones” in Guinea and Liberia–isolating and treating 70% of patients in Guinea and safely burying 70% of patients in Liberia. “We’ve reached an important milestone along the way but that is not going to get you to zero,” said WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward.
Guinea has, indeed, made significant advances in fighting Ebola, despite being the epicenter of the current outbreak. The BBC report’s comments from the WHO fail to mention that Guinea is the only country that actually reached the goals the WHO hoped to accomplish by December 1.
As the Associated Press (AP) notes, the WHO’s original plan was to isolate 70% of Ebola patients and safely bury 70% of those who died of Ebola. Liberia only met half of that challenge, with significant struggles in isolating patients. Sierra Leone, where the pace of the Ebola contamination has accelerated in recent weeks, met neither of those goals.
The AP reports that in Liberia, shortly before the December deadline, “Only 23 percent of cases are isolated and 26 percent of the needed burial teams are in place.” This calls into question how Liberia met the burial deadline. Tony Banbury, the head of the United Nations’ efforts to fight Ebola, said of the results, “There are still going to be many people who catch the disease and many people who die from it.”
Banbury added in a separate BBC interview that Sierra Leone was particularly at risk for a rise in Ebola cases and deaths. “Especially in the capital Freetown and in the town of Port Loko – we are falling short. And it is in those areas where we really need to focus our assets and our capabilities,” he told the broadcast network.
The Awareness Times, Sierra Leone’s largest newspaper, updated its tally at the end of November to 5,906 cases nationwide, with a high number of cases being recorded in recent weeks. The lack of medical infrastructure and police presence in many slums and rural areas has caused a significant increase in cases. Also, people continue to use traditional burial methods to honor the dead, which necessitates dangerous contact with the bodies. In some areas, the lack of medical presence has forced the more educated members of the neighborhood–often teachers with little medical experience–to organize and run quarantines on homes with Ebola patients.
In the district of Bo, the number of Ebola cases has skyrocketed, prompting President Ernest Koroma to reprimand leaders there on Monday for not doing enough to stop improper burials and the hiding of Ebola patients from authorities. The government’s failure to pay burial workers has complicated burials elsewhere in the country. Last week, a group of workers who received no payment for weeks protested by lining up corpses of Ebola patients to display in public, an especially embarrassing episode for the Sierra Leonean government.